Tag Archives: Teacher Evaluation

“High-Stakes” Tests are Hard to Find

young students working at computersThis spring, in schools across the country, standardized testing season is in full swing, and opponents are once again crying out against “high-stakes testing.” But that phrase can be misleading. In many states the stakes are much lower than you might think for students, teachers, and schools, and they’re likely to stay that way for a while.

Student consequences tied to tests are fairly low or nonexistent in most states. Graduation requirements and grade promotion policies tied to tests vary greatly between states and most have more holes than Swiss cheese. As of 2012, half of states had some sort of exit exam as a graduation requirement, but almost all these states had exceptions and alternate routes to a diploma if students didn’t pass the exam on the first try. Tying grade promotion to tests is less common, though some states have emulated Florida’s 3rd grade reading retention policy.  Now, just as tests become more rigorous, states are rolling back their graduation and promotion requirements tied to those tests, or offering even more flexibility if requirements are technically still in effect:

  • California eliminated graduation requirements tied to their exit exam in fall 2015.
  • Arizona repealed graduation requirements tied to testing in spring 2015 prior to administering the new AzMERIT tests.
  • Georgia waived their grade promotion requirement tied to new tests in grades three, five, and eight for the 2015-16 school year.
  • Ohio created new safe harbor policies this school year, which, among other things, prevents schools from using test results in grade promotion or retention until 2017-18 (except in the case of third grade reading tests).
  • New Jersey has had exit exams since 1982, but students can now fulfill the requirement using multiple exams, including the SAT, ACT and PARCC, and a proposed bill would pause the requirement altogether until 2021.

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Teacher Evaluation After ESSA: A Conversation With NCTQ’s Sandi Jacobs

Did states and districts move on teacher evaluation policy because of readiness or was movement a response to federal pressure? What will come of teacher evaluation now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is law and federal pressure is gone? Specifically, which components of teacher evaluation may be up for debate? What should state policymakers be thinking about this legislative session when it comes to teacher evaluation? 

As part of our forthcoming work on teacher evaluation, Bellwether convened policy influencers, state and district leaders, and researchers to discuss these and other current issues, questions, and opportunities with teacher evaluation policies. Sandi Jacobs, Senior Vice President of State and District Policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), attended our convening. The below transcript is an e-mail exchange between Jacobs and Bellwether’s Kaitlin Pennington that transpired after the meeting between late January and mid-February. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Staff pictures for Bellwether Education, in Washington, DC, 10-27-2015. Photo by Toby Jorrin.

Staff pictures for Bellwether Education, in Washington, DC. Photo by Toby Jorrin.

Kaitlin Pennington: At the end of last year, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was reauthorized. The new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) strips all federal requirements on teacher quality issues. When it comes to teacher policy, it’s hard to say how states may react to new flexibility or how quickly for that matter. However, shortly before ESSA passed, I predicted that under the new law, new teacher evaluation policy in states and districts would be especially vulnerable to attack. Then, barely one week after reauthorization, leaders in New York and Oklahoma altered the teacher evaluation systems in their respective states.

It’s no coincidence that both New York and Oklahoma quickly pulled back on using student achievement in teacher evaluation. If I was a betting person, I’d place money on the fact that there are likely several states lining up behind New York and Oklahoma to do the same thing. It’s not that I think teacher evaluation as we’ve known it for the last five to eight years will be a thing of the past, but I doubt student achievement will be a component—and definitely not a significant component—in the majority of states and districts due to the lack of federal oversight in ESSA.

NCTQ is known for all things teacher policy, and your most recent State of the States provides a comprehensive look at how states are evaluating teachers. So what do you think? What’s going to happen to teacher evaluation policy post-ESSA?

Sjacobs_HeadshotSandi Jacobs: I’m just not sure that the reauthorization of ESSA is going to have much impact on states’ teacher evaluation policies. There is a perception that ESSA has done away with requirements for teacher evaluation that were in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and that is just not the case.  No version of ESEA has included a set of mandates around teacher evaluation.

Of course it is true that there was were some serious federal carrots and sticks around teacher evaluation, coming first with Race to the Top (RTT) and then with the ESEA waivers. And especially through the waivers, the feds certainly “encouraged” some states to move farther and faster on teacher evaluation than they really wanted or were ready to do. But it just isn’t my sense that that is the case for most states.

In our most recent scan in late 2015, we found just five states (California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska and Vermont) that had no formal state policy requiring that teacher evaluations take objective measures of student achievement into account in evaluating teacher effectiveness. And only three states – Alabama, New Hampshire and Texas – had evaluation policies that existed only in their waiver requests. It was far from a secret that there were states doing nothing on teacher evaluation; Texas was far from quiet about it. Yet most states kept moving.

It is a certainty that states are going to continue to fine-tune their teacher evaluation requirements.  (Appendix B of our State of the States report attempts to capture the considerable amount of changes states have made just to the weight of student growth measures over the last five years; within all those changes we only found three states that no longer appeared to require it as a significant factor.) What remains to be seen is whether there will be wholesale backpedaling.

I’m cautiously optimistic. There will certainly be political pressure to roll back requirements in some states. The simultaneous implementation of new college- and career-readiness assessments and new teacher evaluation systems has been a significant challenge, one that has unfortunately amplified the pushback to each issue individually. But while much work remains on implementation, the policy landscape around teacher evaluation is completely transformed in this country, and that’s not going to be easy to undo.

And one more note – a teacher evaluation bill is currently moving in the Alabama legislature, one of the eight states that currently does not require student achievement to be part of teacher evaluations.

Kaitlin Pennington: I hear what you’re saying, but I’d like to push on a couple of things. Continue reading

State Legislatures Attack Student Growth in Teacher Evaluation

As many 2016 state legislative sessions move into full swing, my hunch that teacher evaluation legislation would be up for debate due to the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act is proving to be true in several states.  While we can’t directly attribute causality to ESSA, the surge in activity in the current legislative session is highly suggestive.

Below are several states’ proposed bills that would notably change teacher evaluation policy:

  • Colorado: Senate Bill 16-105 would allow school districts to eliminate the use of student academic growth data in teacher evaluations and would give districts discretion to drop annual ratings for effective or highly effective teachers.
  • Florida: House Bill 903 delays the use of student growth scores in teacher and principal evaluations. Specifically, the bill would prohibit the use of statewide English and language arts and math assessments in evaluation ratings until the 2017-2018 school year.
  • Georgia: Senate Bill 364 and Senate Bill 355 both decrease the percentage of student growth scores in teachers’ evaluation ratings. Senate Bill 364 decreases the percentage from 50 percent to 30 percent. Senate Bill 355 would require that student growth scores count for no more than 10 percent in teachers’ evaluation ratings.
  • Oklahoma: Just days after ESSA became law, the Oklahoma State Board of Education voted to allow new options for how districts can measure student growth in teacher evaluations. This legislative session, HB 2265 would remove references to qualitative and quantitative components altogether and require that districts choose additional measures based on a list approved by the State Department of Education. HB 2269 would prohibit the use of value-added as a measure of student academic growth in evaluation systems.
  • Tennessee: House Bill 1453 waives the use of student growth data in teacher evaluations for two school years.

A quick scan of these proposed bills highlights one glaring commonality: the suspension, reduction, or elimination of student growth in teacher evaluation systems. Ironically, the attack on using student growth in teacher evaluation targets the heart of the teacher evaluation movement of the last five to eight years.  It’s too early to tell if proposed bills will go anywhere this session. But the mere existence of the proposals – particularly in states that have been working on performance-based teacher evaluation the longest like Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado – speaks volumes about where states may head with teacher evaluation policy now that federal requirements are gone.

The Peril of Teacher Evaluation Policy under ESSA

It’s official. Teacher evaluation policy in most states and districts is in trouble. Big trouble. After overwhelmingly passing the House this week, a similar outcome predicted in the Senate, and support from the White House, it looks very likely that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be reauthorized very, very soon. The new bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, strips all federal requirements on teacher quality issues.

The main theme of ESSA is state flexibility. This hasn’t always worked so well with school accountability. History suggests that states back away from accountability when they’re not forced into it by the feds. And there’s no reason to think it will be any different for teacher quality policy. Especially teacher evaluation.

Sure, as of today 43 states require that student growth and achievement be considered in teacher evaluations and 40 of those states have it written into state law (three states have teacher evaluation policy existing only in ESEA waivers, which will be eliminated). But many of these states have yet to produce a year’s worth of results on the new evaluation systems, let alone connecting those results to other personnel decisions. Only seven states tie evaluation ratings to compensation. Less than half of states have policies in place where teachers are eligible for dismissal based on evaluation ratings. Just nine states use evaluation to determine licensure.

Besides, while state law matters, it’s also vulnerable to the sway of powerful special interest groups. Continue reading

Hillary Clinton Should Listen to Her Friend Raj Chetty on Teacher Effectiveness

When Hillary Clinton wanted to talk to an esteemed researcher on social mobility, she called Raj Chetty, a Stanford economics professor, a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, and a winner of the John Bates Clark medal, given to the best American economist under age 40. At Clinton’s request, Chetty flew to her Manhattan office to spend hours going over his research. Clinton then cited his work by name.

When Clinton wanted to talk to an esteemed researcher on teachers, she apparently did NOT call Raj Chetty. If Clinton had talked to Chetty about this issue, she might have learned about his work linking value-added measurement (VAM) scores of teachers to their students’ long-term life outcomes like teen pregnancy rates, college attendance, and early-career earnings. But rather than embracing these findings, Clinton directly refuted them at an AFT roundtable last week:

I have for a very long time also been against the idea that you tie teacher evaluation and even teacher pay to test outcomes. There’s no evidence.  There’s no evidence. Now, there is some evidence that it can help with school performance. If everybody is on the same team and they’re all working together, that’s a different issue, but that’s not the way it’s been presented…

Clinton and Chetty are both busy people, so maybe they haven’t had time to connect about education yet. But her “no evidence” refrain is simply wrong. She could have learned this by reading the 5-page summary of evidence Chetty compiled in 2014 with John Friedman and Jonah Rockoff, which concludes that:

…VAM estimates provide information about the causal impacts of teachers on their students’ test score growth. This includes evidence from four separate studies that have directly tested whether VAMs measure correlation or causation… All four of these studies reach the same conclusion: VAMs that control for students’ lagged test scores primarily capture teachers’ causal effects rather than correlations due to other factors not captured in the model. To our knowledge, there is no experimental or quasi-experimental study to date that reaches the opposite conclusion.

The actual implementation of new teacher evaluation systems incorporating student growth is certainly complicated, and there are challenges but also some bright spots and early lessons. I get that we’re in the midst of campaign season and candidates will make overly bold statements. But we should expect policymakers to study and learn from the latest developments in research and practice, not just blindly repeat outdated talking points. So here’s hoping Clinton reconsiders the “no evidence” refrain and consults with Raj Chetty on all of his work, not just some of it.